Seanad debates

Thursday, 1 October 2020

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Nursing Home Accommodation

10:30 am

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Labour)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House. It is a beautiful Chamber, as the Minister of State has said, and it is lovely to be here. The matter I have raised is the need for the Minister for Health to make a statement on the situation regarding St. Mary's Centre Telford, Dublin 4, and the care of persons currently depending on the centre's services, along with his Department's plans to prevent such future situations arising in Irish nursing and care homes.

I know the Minister of State will be well aware of the situation but I will briefly outline it. St. Mary's Centre Telford on Merrion Road is a disability care facility for persons with disabilities, namely, women with sight disabilities and on the same complex, it also comprises a nursing home. There were previously over 50 residents in the nursing home.They have, over a very short period of time, been moved or relocated with significant adverse effects on many of them and their families. There are 18 persons still resident at the care facility, many of whom are very vulnerable and who have been living there for some time. Both of the facilities on the site are run by a company owned by the Sisters of Charity. Two members of that order are the sole shareholders of the company and the order owns the land.

The company owned by the Sisters of Charity just a few short months ago moved to close both facilities and is seeking liquidation of the company running the care homes. The matter is before the High Court and there may be another hearing today on it. There was a hearing on Monday at which former employees of the facility and residents sought to appoint an examiner to try to keep the premises going and maintain some sort of consistency of care for the residents who are still there. The judge refused that application and the law firm representing the former employees and the residents says that it may appeal. That matter is before the courts. I have met many of the former employees. Over 80 people were originally employed at the facilities. I have also met some of the residents who are still there and some of the families that were so severely affected when the closure announcement was made. There has been extensive coverage of this matter in the press. Hot Pressin particular has been very good and has covered the matter extensively. Indeed there is an article in today's edition of Hot Pressby Shamim Malekmian dealing with this issue. She speaks about the really serious effect this is having on very vulnerable persons and their families.

There is no doubt but that the Sisters of Charity, the order involved, has not dealt well with this, to put it mildly. There has been a shameful lack of care shown for the residents and staff involved. The unions involved are seeking to secure adequate redundancy payments for the former staff. That in itself is a significant issue and the company has not behaved well towards staff; nor has it behaved well towards residents. The order stands to gain enormously in monetary terms from the sale of the land which may be consequent upon this liquidation.

What is the State's involvement and why am I seeking a ministerial response? The Minister for Health clearly has a duty of care to these residents and arguably to the staff also, who have cared for residents through the Covid-19 crisis and who continue to care for the remaining residents. The HSE has funded the home extensively and Dublin City Council has an involvement too. I have, through Councillor Declan Meenagh, submitted questions to the council about its role. The council paid for the construction of the care facility and the housing for the 18 women who are currently still there. I understand that the provisional liquidator has suggested that the order might rent a premises to the HSE or extend the lease to ensure that women are not put out on the street. There is clearly a role for the State here. Whatever happens in the court with the order and the liquidator, the State has an obligation to those involved. It is in that context that I ask the Minister of State to make a statement on the issue today.

Photo of Mary ButlerMary Butler (Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senator Bacik for raising this issue in such a constructive manner. Obviously, for the service users and some of the former residents and their families, this has been very challenging and difficult. A key principle underpinning Government policy is to support older people to live in their own homes with dignity and independence for as long as possible, with the correct wraparound supports. In recent years there has been a shift of focus in healthcare provision towards home care. Home support services are key in facilitating older people to remain at home. Of course, there will always be people whose needs are best met in a residential care setting or other supported housing model like the services provided at St. Mary's Telford nursing home.

The Department of Health is aware of the difficult decision taken by the board of management of St. Mary's, which is owned by the Sisters of Charity, to close. On 23 July the HSE was advised that St. Mary's was placed in voluntary provisional liquidation by order of the High Court at the request of the board of directors. The HSE advised that this was not an expected or anticipated action and was contrary to what the board and management had advised the HSE up until the previous week. Provisional liquidators were appointed and they contacted the HSE regarding client and staff welfare on 27 July.It is understood that HIQA was also aware of this issue at the time. There were 19 nursing home clients and 22 disability clients in residence at the centre at the time. All residents have now transitioned from the nursing home element of the service, while 18 remain in the disability element.

At the High Court hearing of 8 September, an application was made on behalf of a group of employees, former employees, residents and their families to consider putting the company into examinership. The application for receivership was rejected by the High Court in a ruling delivered this week, on 28 September.

The HSE is working with the provisional liquidators and continues to provide them with funding to enable care provision to be maintained for the remaining clients at the centre. As of 3 September, the HSE has also commenced on-site engagement to review the service. The HSE is committed to supporting service provision and assistance in respect of client care at the request of the provisional liquidators, who are legally fulfilling the role of provider at this point. I understand that an independent advocacy service was utilised where residents required and consented to such representation or assistance.

The HSE remains conscious of the vulnerability of the residents at the centre of this issue and of the anxiety and stress these circumstances has caused for them and their families. I can only imagine how the residents, who were not expecting this news, would have felt. Some residents who have dementia need the familiarity of the building in which they live. To have to change can be very challenging for many. It is hoped that continued engagement will substantially alleviate this anxiety and stress. I thank the Senator for raising this very important issue.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Labour)
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I thank the Minister of State for her very strong reply. I have raised this matter in the Seanad a number of times but I am grateful to the Minister of State for responding so directly on it. Clearly, there is an issue with regard to the provision of care to vulnerable persons beyond the specific issues affecting St. Mary's. In the context of St. Mary's, I am grateful to the Minister of State for setting out the background. I am shocked, although not surprised, to hear just how little notice was provided and that the HSE was only advised on 23 July that St. Mary's was to be placed in voluntary provisional liquidation. This action was not expected or anticipated. Indeed, it was contrary to what the board of management had advised the HSE up until the previous week. That is shocking and shameful and shows just how shamefully the Sisters of Charity and related companies have behaved towards residents, staff and the State in respect of this issue. Let us not forget that the Sisters of Charity owe the State approximately €3 million in unpaid redress so there is a broader context to this matter.

I thank the Minister for State for setting out the ongoing steps the HSE has taken to engage with those who are still dependent on the continued existence of the facility for their home. I hope that engagement will continue in order to ensure that provision is made for those vulnerable residents and that the uncertainty they currently face, which has caused them so much stress and trauma, will be resolved by some sort of clear provision for their future care. I hope the Minister of State will bring that message back to the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly. I would be really grateful for that. I remind the Minister of State once again of just how much stress, trauma and upset this issue has caused people.

Photo of Mary ButlerMary Butler (Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Senator very much for her answer and for the constructive approach she has taken on this matter. As she has quite rightly said, this centre is these people's home from home. It is where they have spent many years of their lives. Their families have gone through many challenges because, as the Senator correctly stated, the HSE advised that this action was neither expected nor anticipated and was contrary to what the board of management had advised.

To reiterate, an independent advocacy service was utilised where residents required and consented to such representation or assistance. This service continues to support the families. This action was undertaken solely by the former board of directors. Provisional liquidators have been appointed and the HSE has confirmed that it is working closely with them and with HIQA to ensure that all remaining clients are cared for appropriately. That has to be the outcome. All remaining clients must be appropriately cared for. I will follow up on this because I am very concerned about it.These 18 clients have to find their new home from home. It is very important that it happens safely and swiftly, and that there is not too much uncertainty. What they need now is clarity and certainty. I will follow up with the Senator.